I have completed two sprint triathlons this year. Mid Sussex Tri and the London Triathlon. With them under my race belt it was time to have a go at an Olympic Distance Triathlon and I do not think I could have chosen a better starter than the beautiful Arundel Castle Triathlon 2015.
Arundel, West Sussex
Arundel is a small town in West Sussex UK. It is home to a magnificent castle and beautiful cathedral which overlook the town from the top of a hill. Below flows the Arun River and beyond are the South Downs and picturesque places such as Amberley Castle, Chichester Cathedral and the seaside resort of Brighton in the other direction.
I live in Worthing, which is half way between Arundel and Brighton. I woke at 4:30am to get myself to the start in good time and made it, in the dark, to a field opposite the castle and next to the river, by 5:30am. I must have been one of the first participants to get my number and timing chip and I had my pick of positions in the transition area.
Cervelo P3 Aero Bike
My Arundel Castle Triathlon race pack contained two stickers. One goes on the front of your bike helmet and one goes pretty much anywhere on the bike. This is more for security purposes than anything. It allows the marshals to easily check that the right person is taking the right bike out. This was especially important for me on this occasion because, thanks to The Tri Store in Eastbourne, I had the use of a fantastic Cervelo P3 aero bike. Having it stolen from transition was not something I wanted to contemplate.
Also in my race pack was a white swim cap. Participants were divided by swim times and given different coloured caps for different wave start times. I put myself in the slowest male swim wave. Two waves would go off before me and all the female triathletes would go off after me. Although I can swim fairly well in terms of technique, I am not particularly fast. I can swim 1000 metres in a pool in just over 20 minutes, so I expected to swim the 1500 metre open water course in around 35 minutes.
For a late summers morning it was remarkably cold and I had to wear gloves prior to getting changed. I was in my wetsuit by 6:30 and on my way to the start line for 7am. The start was a 10 minute walk away. We were to swim 200 metres upstream and before turning and swimming back 1300 metres, with the current, to near the transition area.
With my GoPro camera strapped to my wrist I attracted the attention of a few of the other triathletes who could not believe I was going to attempt to swim with it! I did look a bit daft as it was covered in a bright orange floatie. I was convinced that one of the marshals would stop me at some point to tell me I would have to take it off. Luckily none did. Arundel Castle Triathlon here we come!
The water was beautifully lit by the rising sun and steam rose from the river as it warmed, making the whole scene rather ethereal. You get some idea of how it looked from the video.
Before I knew it, we were off. For the first 100 metres I found it hard to get my breath. I had to consciously calm down and concentrate on keeping a steady pace in the water. By the turn at 200 metres I was ok and apart from my usual direction problems I was swimming well. I love swimming in a wetsuit. It adds so much buoyancy and therefore speed. It was a little disheartening to have the top female racers overtake me towards the end of the swim leg. So, I was amazed when I got out of the water to see a time of 26 minutes. Not fast but certainly better than I expected.
Transition to the bike could have been quicker. I didn’t get my wetsuit off fast enough and I faffed around a little too much with food and the wrist strap for the camera. The bike leg was, and is always, my biggest test. I am improving but I am not a confident rider on the roads and my leg power is not the best. I was so please therefore, when I immediately noticed a difference in speed on the aero bike. It gave me a real boost, mentally and physically, to feel I wasn’t being held back by the equipment I was using, and that all my effort would translate into power through the pedals.
In the past, 40kms would have felt like a very long way. But riding indoors on Zwift and breaking the long distance record (albeit fleetingly) by riding 500kms in 17 hours, enabled me to view the distance as relatively short. It was a hilly, but very picturesque course. By the way, if you are interested, you can see that long distance record over two Strava activities here and here.
For those that know West Sussex well, the route travelled out of Arundel on the A27 towards Worthing but turned of on to the A280 Long Furlong road and joined the north bound A24. We then turned off at Washington on to the A283 to Storrington and down the Amberley Road to Houghton. It was a long steep climb out of Houghton but a very fast descent back in to Arundel on the A284.
Despite being a rather nervous rider, I did hit 40mph coming down that hill and it was a rush let me tell you. Hit anything in the road at that speed and I would have been seriously hurt. It felt like 100mph never mind 40. In previous triathlons I have been passed easily by other cyclists and have really felt like I was lacking. In this race I was passed by one other rider and I passed several. The official results show that at the end of transition one, I was in 92nd place and by the end of the bike I had moved up to 58th. Overall I was 48th on the bike and 85th in the swim. I lost 7 places in T1.
I was a lot quicker in T2 but still lost 2 places and started the run in 60th. However, we know this is generally my strength. I had put a lot of effort in to the bike and my legs did certainly feel that weird sensation you get when you run straight off the bike. My feet were also numb with cold so the first kilometre of the run was very strange. The course is primarily a trail run. Two laps round the back of the castle grounds with one significant climb. I definitely did not feel fresh, but I ran as best I could and was not passed at all during the, what turned out to be, 9km route.
The weather had turned out to be absolutely beautiful. Not too warm, gorgeous sunshine and a fantastic, picturesque backdrop. I loved it. As I came to the final 2km I passed the leading lady, Laura Starmer and shouted to her to keep up. She was miles ahead of the second place lady so I don’t think she was too concerned about getting caught. I eventually finished about a minute in front of her on the course, but 4 minutes behind her in reality. She came up to me afterwards to ask what time I did as she had lost her timing chip. Often this is a major problem and in the London Triathlon I was told, no chip, no result. But as she was the winner, and the organisers of the smaller Arundel Castle Triathlon aren’t total bastards, I think they were more than happy to make an exception!
Arundel Castle Triathlon 2015
I ended the run feeling amazing. I sprinted down the steep hill from the castle wall to the finish line on the high street and crossed the line in 41st place overall. I was 4th in my age category. I was the 19th fastest runner in the field with a time of 39:08 for 9km. The organisers tell me that next year they will ensure that the run is the full 10km.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect triathlon for my first Olympic Distance. The weather, the location and the course were all superb and I will definitely do this event again next year. I loved it and thanks to all the organisers and voluteers. Furthermore, I am completely in love with my Orca wetsuit, the Cervleo P3 and my GoPro wrist strap. All awesome and all made me enjoy racing more than I would have otherwise.
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